About the course
On our marine biology course you dive into a fascinatingly complex world of whales, coral reefs, fish, deep sea trenches, coastal lagoons, sea ice, and tropical seagrass beds. The vast majority of life on earth is found under the sea; but exactly how much remains unknown, since there is so much still to be explored.
At Essex, we take you on a journey of discovery from the poles to the tropical reef systems of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans. We work on ecosystems from estuaries and coastal environments to oceanic systems, and on conservation and resource management.
You gain an expert knowledge of marine biology through study of essential core modules and the flexibility to specialise in the areas that interest you most, including:
- The major types of marine communities, including aquatic mammals and fish
- Direct and indirect human impact on the marine environment
- Coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove systems
- Marine and freshwater taxonomy and biodiversity
- Diving and snorkel-based practices
Your individual research project allows you to develop your own interests. Previous topics have included shellfisheries and water quality, turtle ecology in Greece and coral reef conservation strategies in the Caribbean and Indonesia.
“My fondest memories of studying at Essex will be the travelling opportunities it has given me, particularly intensive field courses where I was instructed by scientists at the forefront of my subject. I was also happy to conduct my postgraduate studies at Essex due to the University’s high research status in biological status and because of the notable scientists within the Department.”
Sarah-Jane Walsh, BSc Marine and Freshwater Biology, 2009
This course is approved by the Royal Society of Biology.
You also have the opportunity to develop your practical skills with UK and overseas field trips, including a part-subsidised visit to our Indonesian coral reef research centre, where you gain scuba dive certification.
Your education extends beyond the university campus. We support you extending your education through providing the option of an additional year at no extra cost. The four-year version of our degree allows you to spend the third year studying abroad in an English-speaking country or employed on a placement, while otherwise remaining identical to the three-year course.
Studying abroad allows you to experience other cultures, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised. Recent destinations include:
- Curtin University of Technology
- University of Western Australia
- Northern Arizona University
- University of Hawaii Hilo
- Macquarie University
Alternatively, you can spend your third year on a placement year with an external organisation. This is usually focussed around your course, and enables you to learn about a particular sector, company or job role, apply your academic knowledge in a practical working environment, and receive inspiration for future career pathways.
Our expert staff
As one of the largest schools at our University, we offer a lively, friendly and supportive environment with research-led study and high quality teaching. Two-thirds of our research is rated “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” (REF 2014), and you learn from and work alongside our expert staff.
Our research covers a wide spectrum of biology – from the cell right through to communities and ecosystems. Key academic staff for this course include Dr Leanne Appleby Hepburn, who works on community ecology of coral reefs, Professor Dave Smith who is researching tropical marine biology and conservation, and Dr Michael Steinke, who is working on biogenic trace gases in marine environments.
The University of Essex has a Women's Network to support female staff and students and was awarded the Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Award in November 2013 in recognition of its continuing work to support women in STEM.
Recent spending by our University has allowed for major refurbishment and expansion of our School of Biological Sciences, including:
- Work in an open and friendly department, with shared staff-student social spaces
- Conduct your final-year research alongside academics and PhD students in shared labs
- Our local marine biology field centre, with direct access to the Colne estuary, a recently designated marine conservation zone (MCZ). Develop your practical skills through mapping habitats, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and boat handling
- Participate in our national and international field courses in Plymouth, Greece and Indonesia
- State-of-the-art research facilities, from brain imaging systems, to CO2 incubators, underwater video cameras, and coral reef research aquaria
- Teaching facilities including new undergraduate laboratories
As the world's environmental problems increase, the demand for qualified marine biologists and ecologists continues to grow.
Following your degree in Marine Biology you can opt for further study, or pursue careers as varied as conservation, writing and editing for scientific publications, research or consultancy for coastal-based organisations.
Our students have taken up a wide range of careers in research laboratories, consultancies, business and industry, conservation practice and environmental assessment. Others have gone on to work in sales, publishing and management, while others still have chosen to enhance their career opportunities by studying for MSc or PhD degrees.
Recent graduates have gone on to work for the following high profile organisations:
- New Earth Solutions
- Engine Group
- Cromwell Council
- Postgraduate marine and environmental biology
We also work with the university’s Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.
Studying at Essex is about discovering yourself, so your course combines compulsory and optional modules to make sure you gain key knowledge in the discipline, while having as much freedom as possible to explore your own interests. Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.
For many of our courses you’ll have a wide range of optional modules to choose from – those listed in this example structure are just a selection of those available. The opportunity to take optional modules will depend on the number of core modules within any year of the course. In many instances, the flexibility to take optional modules increases as you progress through the course.
Our Programme Specification gives more detail about the structure available to our current first-year students, including details of all optional modules.
Develop your skillset and boost your CV. This module prepares you for the coursework, laboratory practicals and research projects that you will encounter during undergraduate study. Get to know referencing systems and learn how to effectively communicate scientific information. Use scientific units and simple algebra and demonstrate understanding of logarithms, exponentials, geometry and elementary calculus. Learn how to design experiments, handle data and display, interpret and analyse basic statistics.
Teaching and learning will be through a mixture of lectures, classes, practicals and tutorials, with an emphasis on developing the key transferable skills needed for a career in biosciences.
Develop practical field skills that are critical for any practicing Marine Biologist. Spending one week at the Marine Biological Association of the UK in Plymouth, you gain key knowledge of marine invertebrate and algal identification, classification and distribution, developing skills in experimental design, field data-collection and data analysis.
Why do we all look different? Are some illnesses hereditary? Are animals born ready-suited to their environment? From the early theories of Mendel to modern studies in molecular genetics, you explore how scientists have answered these questions over the last 150 years.
Examine how the structure and function of DNA allows genetic material to be expressed, replicated and inherited, and consider how genetic variation leads to adaptive evolution. From developing new technologies in gene cloning to the applications for modern medicine, you explore how geneticists are building on the earlier achievements in this fundamentally important field to enhance our understanding of life on earth.
Living life on a knife’s edge – explore the vital role plants play in our biosphere, their diversity and intricate relationships that support our planet. Examine the value of these natural resources; examine the consequences we face when the balance is disturbed.
From studying how plants affect and are affected by their environment you learn what we can expect from a changing world. Examine how we influence the world around us. You apply this knowledge to the field, learning to collect, present, analyse and eventually interpret data.
Understanding the fundamentals of ecology and plant diversity allows you to explore possible solutions to our environmental problems.
Get to know the culprits of some of the world’s deadliest diseases.
Despite major advances in treatment and prevention, incidences of infectious disease continue to rise. Vast diversity, rapid evolution and the opportunistic nature of micro-organisms present a significant challenge. You examine how different viruses and bacteria invade, interact and replicate within living hosts, and explore the consequent impact on ecology, industry and disease.
A series of four practical sessions allows you to get hands-on and develop valuable skills. You learn how to purify, observe, count and kill micro-organisms in our purpose-built labs, gaining experience of aseptic techniques, serial dilution, response to antibiotics, and staining.
The diversity of life on planet Earth is breath taking. We share our home with a vast number of species, a large portion of which are animals. We will discover the diversity of animal forms and functions and the role of natural selection in determining individual behaviour such as foraging, breeding and predator escape. You also investigate the idea that nothing in ecology and evolution makes sense in isolation.
The marine realm covers 70% of the Earth's surface. It contains ice-covered seas and hydrothermal vents, muddy estuaries, deep ocean trenches and the clear blue open sea. The oceans and seas are also integral to the whole earth-ocean-atmosphere system, which controls the climate and conditions for life on Earth.
Discover the different marine environments, the organisms that inhabit them and their ecological interactions. You also investigate the physical and chemical conditions that determine the diversity of marine life and consider how human activity is influencing marine ecosystems, through overfishing, pollution, and climate change.
Our oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the planets water. This vast underwater world supports a huge diversity of living organisms – get to know them.
You learn how to assess biodiversity, measure species distribution and regulate populations. Systems of particular focus include biodiversity hot-spots such as coral reefs and rocky shores. You also have chance to practically apply your skills, examining the biodiversity of muddy and sandy shores, and investigating the morphological and genetic diversity in marine amphipods.
In this career-focused module you develop skills specific to your discipline, such as information retrieval, data-analysis and interpretation techniques, as well as a broader range of transferable skills, such as communication, team-work, numeracy and attention to detail. Learn how to best approach job applications, including CV and cover letter writing, aptitude testing and the interview process.
The importance of marine vertebrates to our aquatic systems cannot be underestimated, yet some of our most iconic underwater species are under serious threat. This module focuses on the taxonomy, physiology, ecology and conservation of the top predators and keystone species, including (but not limited to), whales, dolphins, sharks, rays, manatees, marine turtles and sea snakes.
Examine how competition, predation, herbivory, mutualism, disease and parasitism affect the distribution, abundance and growth of populations, and how populations interact to affect the structure and dynamics of ecological communities. You apply this ecological knowledge to real-world problems, such as pest control and conservation.
Human activity is resulting in an ever-accelerating rate of extinction of biodiversity. Many species in the tropics are becoming extinct even before they have been described by science, while many more are threatened worldwide, including in the UK. Considering the need for biodiversity conservation, you work alongside some of the key employers in the sector including Essex Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency. Topics include sustainable fisheries and agriculture, climate change, environmental law and captive breeding and re-introduction.
Microbes have been on the Earth for at least 3.5 billion years; they tolerate or require a huge range of physico-chemical extremes and perform a remarkable array of functions. This module will examine the diversity of microbes, and how they can be applied for the benefit of society and the environment, for example by bioremediation of contaminated land, recovery of oil and metals, production of biofuels and therapeutic compounds.
Investigate the relationship between water chemistry and habitat structure, and biological diversity of coastal environments. Getting hands-on in the local Colne/Blackwater estuary you gain experience in assessing environmental variables, sampling protocols and general fieldwork skills. You learn to identify a wide variety of animals and plants at different salinities, as well as associated habitats such as freshwater grazing marshes and salt marshes. You are also trained in commonly used lab techniques, such as measuring phosphate concentrations and sediment properties.
Fisheries provide food and employment to millions of people across the globe. Get to know the social and economic drivers of fishing and explore the subsequent impact on marine ecosystems. You gain an understanding of the scale and significance of fisheries and learn to critically analyse the methods used to assess their efficacy.
Pollution is the introduction of substances that are harmful to the environment. It can be local or widespread. Using a range of examples you consider the major pollutants in atmospheric, terrestrial and aquatic environments, their sources and ecological effects, as well as potential ways of controlling them.
Anthropogenic stressors are putting more and more species at risk of extinction. How can we protect them? Zoos undoubtedly play a major part – you examine their role in species re-introductions and in-situ conservation, paying close attention to animal welfare and behaviour. You also examine the conservation of habitats, identifying how nature reserves are selected and managed, as well as taking part in site assessments to analyse coastal grazing marsh and quarry restoration.
Freshwater systems play an essential role in the ecology of many species. Explore the major types of freshwater habitats (streams, rivers, ponds, lakes) and examine how anthropogenic stressors such as water extraction, pollution and climate change place them under threat.
Be introduced to the key concepts of animal behaviour from an ethological and comparative cognition viewpoint. By taking a critical look at published work and research and identifying the frameworks that underlie animal behaviour, you will become familiar with aspects such as the evolution of behaviour and the cognitive capabilities of different species.
On your year abroad, you have the opportunity to experience other cultures and languages, to broaden your degree socially and academically, and to demonstrate to employers that you are mature, adaptable, and organised. The rest of your course remains identical to the three-year degree.
- Learn through a combination of lectures, laboratory sessions and coursework
- Gain experience collating and interpreting data, and reporting findings clearly and concisely
- Benefit from teaching at our local marine biology field centre
- Degrees are awarded on the results of your written examinations together with continual assessments of your practical work and coursework
- Conduct a research project into marine biology in your final year of study
If you already have your results and want to apply for 2016 entry through Clearing, complete our Clearing application form
and we’ll get back in touch with you or give us a ring
to discuss your grades.
IELTS entry requirements
English language requirements for applicants whose first language is not English: IELTS 6.0 overall. (Different requirements apply for second year entry.)
If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.
If you are an international student requiring a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK please see our immigration webpages for the latest Home Office guidance on English language qualifications.
Other English language qualifications may be acceptable so please contact us for further details. If we accept the English component of an international qualification then it will be included in the information given about the academic levels required. Please note that date restrictions may apply to some English language qualifications.